Top 20 Best Gangster Movies
The best gangster movies list format started here! The gangster film is one of the most popular in modern movies and some of the best film directors alive have produced some incredible gangster movies. In fact, on the Internet Movie Database, the number 1 ranked movie is the Godfather – out of all genres. Because there are so many great gangster films out there, this was a tough list to put together. Nevertheless, I have managed to round up what I consider to be the 20 greatest gangster movies of all time. As usual, if you don’t agree with my selections or ordering, post a comment and let us all know. So, without further ado, from good to amazing, here are the top 20 gangster movies of all time.
20 Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes, 2002
Mike Sullivan works as a hit man for crime boss John Rooney. Sullivan views Rooney as a father figure. However after his son is witness to a killing he has done Mike Sullivan finds him self on the run trying to save the life of his son and at the same time looking for revenge on those who wronged him. Jude Law co stars as a hit man hired to kill Sullivan.
Memorable Line: John Rooney: What men do after work is what made us rich. No need to screw them at work as well.
19 Donnie Brasco
Mike Newell, 1997
This gangster movie based on a true story follows FBI agent Joe Pistone as he infiltrates the mafia of New York. Befriending Lefty Ruggiero, Pistone (under the name Donnie Brasco) is able to embed himself in a mafia faction lead by Sonny Black. Ruggiero and Pistone become tight as the group goes about collecting money for ‘the bosses’. Eventually, the group become big time when Black himself becomes a boss, all the while Pistone collects evidence. However, the trials and tribulations of the undercover work become more than Pistone can bear. His marriage falls apart and to top it off, the mafia suspect a mole in the organization. The real dilemma is afforded to Pistone, who knows if he walks away from the mafia, Ruggiero will be the one punished.
Memorable Line: Lefty: How many times have I had you in my house? If you’re a rat, then I’m the biggest mutt in the history of the Mafia.
18 Miller’s Crossing
Coen Brothers, 1990
A highly styled ‘genre’ film which can perhaps be seen as a pastiche of all gangster movies. Tom Reagan is the laconic anti-hero of this amoral tale which is also, paradoxically, a look at morals within the criminal underworld of the 1930s. Two rival gangs vie for control of a city where the police are pawns, and the periodic busts of illicit drinking establishments are no more than a way for one gang to get back at the other. Black humour and shocking violence compete for screen time as we question whether or not Tom, right-hand man of the Irish mob leader, really has a heart.
Memorable Line: Tom Reagan: If you want me to keep my mouth shut, it’s gonna cost you some dough. I figure a thousand bucks is reasonable, so I want two.
17 The Untouchables
Brian De Palma, 1987
1920’s prohibition Chicago is corrupt from the judges downward. So in going up against Al Capone, Treasury agent Eliot Ness picks just two cops to help him and his accountant colleague. One is a sharp-shooting rookie, the other a seen-it-all beat man. The four of them are ready to battle Capone and his empire, but it could just be that guns are not the best way to get him.
Memorable Line: Capone: I want you to get this f—— where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!
16 The Departed
Martin Scorsese, 2006
In South Boston, the state police force is waging war on Irish-American organized crime. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan is assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Frank Costello. While Billy quickly gains Costello’s confidence, Colin Sullivan, a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the state police as an informer for the syndicate, is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit. Each man becomes deeply consumed by his double life, gathering information about the plans and counter-plans of the operations he has penetrated. But when it becomes clear to both the mob and the police that there’s a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin are suddenly in danger of being caught and exposed to the enemy-and each must race to uncover the identity of the other man in time to save himself. But is either willing to turn on the friends and comrades they’ve made during their long stints undercover?
Memorable Line: Dignam: My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.
15 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Guy Ritchie, 1998
Four Cockney wide-boys are tricked into owing 500,000 nicker to the local gang-land boss and porn king, ‘Hatchet’ Harry Lonsdale. With the very real threat of finger amputation looming over them the lads come up with a plan to nick the cash from their next-door neighbours: a gang of hardcase drug-dealers… Meanwhile, ‘Hatchet’ ain’t none too pleased when a pair of antique shotguns wot he wants are sold on by a pair of Scouse thieves, to be used in a “job”… The involvement of a conscientious debt-collector, some public school “chemists”, a psychotic hash-baron, a lot of guns and knives, ensures that karma is surrealistically resolved (just!) before the end credits roll
Memorable Line: Eddie: Err, bad breath, colorful language, feather duster… what do you think they’re gonna be armed with? Guns, you tit!
14 Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese, 1973
In a series of character-led incidents set against the background of New York City’s Little Italy, we follow the life of Charlie, a small-time member of the wiseguy community who collects protection money. His friends Tony and Michael are part of the community, but his other friend Johnny Boy is unreliable and therefore must be shunned. Charlie’s secret girlfriend Teresa has epilepsy, and so must also be shunned. When Charlie’s uncle Giovanni offers him a restaurant – the first step up the ladder – Charlie is forced to choose between his desire for power, his love for Teresa and his duty to protect his friend Johnny Boy.
Memorable Line: Martin Scorsese: You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.
Martin Scorsese, 1995
This Martin Scorsese film depicts the Janus-like quality of Las Vegas–it has a glittering, glamorous face, as well as a brutal, cruel one. Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world. Seen through their eyes, each as a foil to the other, the details of mob involvement in the casinos of the 1970’s and ’80’s are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw–Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger, and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.
Memorable Line: Ace Rothstein: No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep comin’ back and back until one of you is dead.
Guy Ritchie, 2000
Turkish, an unlicensed boxing promoter is pulled into trouble when he becomes involved in big time criminal Brick Top, who wants him to arrange a fight and fix it. Meanwhile, a diamond theft goes down but the 84 karat stone goes missing. This leads Avi, the boss who was supposed to receive the stone, to come to England to search for it, with the help of his cousin, Doug The Head and Bullet Tooth Tony. As events twist and turn, the two situations blend into one with a chain reaction of events carrying on for each and every character.
Memorable Line: Sol: You ain’t from this planet are you, Vincent? Who is gonna mug two black fellas, holding pistols, sat in a car that is worth less than your shirt?
11 Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino, 1992
They were six strangers, assembled to pull off the perfect crime: Mr. White, a professional criminal; Mr. Orange, a young newcomer; Mr. Blonde, a trigger-happy killer; Mr. Pink, a paranoid neurotic; Mr. Brown; and Mr. Blue. Hired by mob boss Joe Cabot and given fake names so no one could identify the others, they thought there was no way their heist could have failed. But after a police ambush, killing Mr. Brown and seriously injuring Mr. Orange, the criminals return to their rendezvous point (a warehouse), and realize that one of them had to have been a police informant. But who?
Memorable Line: Mr. Pink: I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.
10 White Heat
Raoul Walsh, 1949
Granted it’s an old gangster movie, but it’s well worth the inclusion on a list of top gangster movies. Cody Jarrett is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his ‘Ma,’ Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an ‘accident’ happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.
Memorable Line: Cody Jarrett: Made it, Ma! Top of the world!
9 Carlito’s Way
Brian De Palma, 1993
Carlito has just gotten out of prison due to technicalities with the help of his sleazy lawyer. After a life spent trafficking heroin he decides not to pursue the life of the streets. He buys into a night club and begins saving money to move to the Bahamas, but his presence as a known player makes it inevitable that he get sucked back into his violent former life.
Memorable Line: Carlito: Who the f—— are you? I should remember you? What, you think you like me? You ain’t like me motherf——er, you a punk. I’ve been with made people, connected people. Who’ve you been with? Chain snatching, jive-ass, maricon motherf——ers. Why don’t you get out of here and go snatch a purse.
Brian De Palma, 1983
An update of the 1932 gangster movie, Scarface (1983) follows gangster Tony Montana and his close friend Manny Ray from their trip on the Cuban Boat Lift for refugees to their arrival in Miami. After killing a powerful Cuban figure, Montana and company gain the ability to leave their refugee camps and roam around the U.S. After unsuccessfully trying to make it legitamately in the country, Montana and Ray resort to selling cocaine to dealers around the world. Tony’s rise is quick, but as he becomes more powerful, his enemies and his own paranoia begin to plague his empire.
Memorable Line: Tony Montana: Another Quaalude, and she’ll be mine again.
7 Once upon a time in America
Sergio Leone, 1984
This gangster movie is an epic, episodic, tale of the lives of a small group of New York City Jewish gangsters spanning over 40 years. Told mostly in flashbacks and flash-forwards, the movie centers on small-time hood David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson and his lifelong partners in crime; Max, Cockeye and Patsy and their friends from growing up in the rough Jewish neighborhood of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1920s, to the last years of Prohibition in the early 1930s, and then to the late 1960s where an elderly Noodles returns to New York after many years in hiding to look into the past.
Memorable Line: Noodles: I like the stink of the streets. It cleans out my lungs. And it gives me a hard-on.
6 Du Rififi Chez les Hommes
Jules Dassin, 1955
Tony Stephanois, just out of prison and angry at his girl Mado’s infidelity, decides to join his pals Jo and Mario in an ambitious crime. With Italian safe expert Cesar, they meticulously plan the burglary of a large jewelry establishment. Not a word is spoken as the crime is carried out. And then things begin to go wrong…
Memorable Line: Louise: You’re not the only one that had an unhappy childhood, there are millions like you, and, in my eyes, *they* are the tough ones, not you!
5 Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino, 1994
Jules and Vincent work as hitmen for crime boss Marcellus Wallace in this incredibly unique take on the gangster movie genre. Wallace is currently dealing with Butch Collidge, a boxer who failed to throw a fight after taking Wallace’s money and is now planning to flee the city, but can’t leave his father’s watch behind. Vincent faces some problems of his own when Wallace asks him to show his wife Mia a good time while he’s away. Some of these people redeem themselves and some don’t, and all meet an end appropriate to their choices.
Memorable Line: Jimmie: I don’t need you to tell me how f——ing good my coffee is, okay? I’m the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys SHIT. Me, I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it. But you know what’s on my mind right now? It AIN’T the coffee in my kitchen, it’s the dead nigger in my garage.
4 Mou gaan dou
Wai Keung Lau, 2002
Shawn Yue plays a young police officer who has been sent undercover as a mole in the local mafia. Edison Chen plays a young mafia member who is infiltrating the police force. Years later, their older counterparts, Tony Leung and Andy Lau respectively, race against time to expose the mole within their midsts and destroy him. This is the film that lead to the Departed.
Memorable Line: Keung: Remember this, if you see someone doing something but at the same time watching you… then he is a cop.
3 Cidade de Deus
Fernando Meirelles, 2002
Brazil, 1960’s, City of God. The Tender Trio robs motels and gas trucks. Younger kids watch and learn well…too well. 1970’s: Li’l Zé has prospered very well and owns the city. He causes violence and fear as he wipes out rival gangs without mercy. His best friend Bené is the only one to keep him on the good side of sanity. Rocket has watched these two gain power for years, and he wants no part of it. Yet he keeps getting swept up in the madness. All he wants to do is take pictures. 1980’s: Things are out of control between the last two remaining gangs…will it ever end? Welcome to the City of God.
Memorable Line: Rocket: What should have been swift revenge turned into an all out war. The City of God was divided. You couldn’t go from one section the other, not even to visit a relative. The cops considered anyone living in the slum a hoodlum. People got used to living in Vietnam, and more and more volunteers signed up to die.
Martin Scorsese, 1990
The lowly, blue-collar side of New York’s Italian mafia is explored in this crime biopic of wiseguy Henry Hill. As he makes his way from strapping young petty criminal, to big-time thief, to middle-aged cocaine addict and dealer, the film explores in detail the rules and traditions of organized crime. Watching the rise and fall of Hill and his two counterparts, the slick jack-of-all-trades criminal Jimmy Conway and the brutish, intimidating Tommy DeVito, this true story realistically explores the core, blue-collar part of the mob.
Memorable Line: Henry Hill: [narrating] Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I’d either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies.
1 Best Gangster Movie: The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola, 1972
This was the easiest choice for me – the Godfather has to be number 1 gangster movie because it is unparalleled in this genre (and virtually all others). Vito Corleone is the aging don (head) of the Corleone Mafia Family. His youngest son Michael has returned from WWII just in time to see the wedding of Connie Corleone (Michael’s sister) to Carlo Rizzi. All of Michael’s family is involved with the Mafia, but Michael just wants to live a normal life. Drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo is looking for Mafia Families to offer him protection in exchange for a profit of the drug money. He approaches Don Corleone about it, but, much against the advice of the Don’s lawyer Tom Hagen, the Don is morally against the use of drugs, and turns down the offer. This does not please Sollozzo, who has the Don shot down by some of his hit men. The Don barely survives, which leads his son Michael to begin a violent mob war against Sollozzo and tears the Corleone family apart.
Memorable Line: Don Corleone: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.
+ A Prophet (Un prophète)
Jacques Audiard, 2009
I have added this film to bring this list of gangster movies more up to date. The illiterate eighteen year-old Franco-Arab Malik El Djebena is sent to Brécourt prison sentenced to six years for assaulting police officers. Alone and without money, Malik finds unprotected in an environment of corruption and violence divided by the Corsican and Muslim gangs. The powerful Corsican mobster César Luciani forces him to kill the Muslin Reyeb and then gives support and protection to him in his gang. Malik befriends Ryad that teaches him how to read and write and they become best friends. Meanwhile César uses Malik to help him outside prison in his dirty business with casinos. Malik also learns how to deal drugs and climbs positions in the hierarchy of César’s mafia.
++ Bugsy Malone
Alan Parker, 1976
I added this bonus movie so there was at least one for the kids. A gangster movie where all the gangsters are children. Instead of real bullets they use “splurge guns” that cover the victim in cream. The story tells of the rise of “Bugsy Malone” and the battle for power between “Fat Sam” and “Dandy Dan”.
Memorable Line: Dandy Dan: Okay fellas, this is our moment. Keep a cool head and keep those fingers pumpin’, ’cause remember, it’s history you’ll be writin’.